BMA study offers recommendations to improve Medicare Advantage beneficiary surveys

Medicare Advantage
A new study from the Better Medicare Alliance gave a series of recommendations to improve the customer surveys that play a vital part in Medicare Advantage star ratings. (Getty/designer491)

The current survey used to evaluate the customer experience of Medicare Advantage and Part D plans needs to be more accurate, especially as it takes a larger role in plan star ratings, a new study finds.

The study (PDF), released Wednesday by the advocacy group Better Medicare Alliance, made several recommendations to change the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) survey.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) evaluates plans based on eight patient experience measures, and better measures can lead to a higher star rating for plans.

The group contracted with experts at NORC at the University of Chicago to interview 41 experts and undertake a review of existing literature.

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The study found that CMS should modernize the patient experience measurement by updating the survey language.

It should also reduce the length of the survey by removing provider-focused questions that do not impact the health plan. CMS should also test novel scoring and leverage provider CAHPS data that can reduce the length of the survey.

“Plans expressed concern about declining survey response rates, considering the potential bias that small sample sizes and shrinking response rates may have no their CAHPS scores,” according to the study.

The study found that a potential reason for decreasing response rates is that the survey is mailed and with a phone follow-up. CMS is testing a web-based method for the survey.

CMS should also give plans more granular CAHPS results while also protecting confidentiality to empower better health plan quality and improvement, the study said.  

It recommended that CMS review any CAHPS questions from the patient experience MA star ratings that healthcare plans cannot directly change or impact.

“This growth and modernization is necessary so that patients, clinicians, health plans, accrediting entities, quality organizations and policymakers can better rely on the accuracy of the results and information to drive quality as defined by CMS,” the study said.